Cablegate: Ambassador Visits Father Ly in Prison

DE RUEHHI #1098/01 2891133
O R 160748Z OCT 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Ambassador Visits Father Ly in Prison

REF: A) HANOI 821 B) HANOI 831

HANOI 00001098 001.2 OF 003

1. (SBU) SUMMMARY: Meeting with the Ambassador October 14, jailed
political dissident Father Nguyen Van Ly reported that that he was
"95 percent recovered" from his July 12 stroke. Ly said he remains
isolated from other inmates but receives daily medical check-ups
from prison physicians and maintains a full schedule, including
regular prayer and Bible reading. Ly appeared more subdued than he
was the last time he met the Ambassador; he refrained from the
vociferous denunciations of Vietnam's communist authorities that
characterized previous meetings with U.S. officials. Father Ly
commented it was important for the government and dissidents to
understand each others' perspective. Not surprisingly, he opined
that Vietnam's laws violated international norms. Ly thanked the
Administration and Congress for raising his case with GVN
officials, but predicted he'll remain in jail for the remainder of
his five-year term, since he will not "reform" his thinking. State
media and prison officials were present throughout the 75-minute
meeting. In a follow-on interview with television and print media
journalists, the Ambassador reiterated his request that the GVN
release Father Ly. END SUMMARY.

Pre-briefing from Prison Warden


2. (SBU) On October 14, the Ambassador and Poloff traveled to Nam
Ha Prison in Ha Nam Province to meet with prominent political
dissident Father Nguyen Van Ly. (NOTE: Post requested the meeting
at the end of August when first notified about Father Ly's stroke,
but was not permitted to visit the prison until now. END NOTE.)
Immediately prior to the meeting, Prison Warden Thang gave a short
briefing on Ly's current health situation. Thang stated that Ly's
July 12 stroke (Ref. A), which he described as "minor," was the
result of Ly's recurring high blood pressure. He claimed that
Father Ly had failed to take his medication as instructed by prison
doctors. Prison officials had provided emergency treatment and
conducted daily checks of his blood pressure, which now averaged
140 over 90. Warden Thang stated that he would make arrangements
for Father Ly to visit a specialist if Ly's health deteriorated.
Ly's family had been notified about his condition, and the prison
had allowed two priests from the Hue Archdiocese to visit (Ref B).

Father Ly on His Health Status and Daily Schedule

--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (SBU) Father Ly entered the room with an almost imperceptible
limp, but was clearly animated and in good spirits -- a mood which
lasted throughout the 75-minute meeting. Father Ly thanked the
Ambassador for his concern and described his health as
"temporarily" fine. He explained that at the end of May he had
experienced a sudden spike in his blood pressure and had blood in
his stool. Although the situation stabilized in May after
emergency treatment from prison doctors, he suffered a mild stroke
on July 12, which Ly attributed to another sudden rise in blood
pressure. His right arm and right leg had been temporarily
paralyzed, but as a result of emergency treatment by prison doctors
and a regular exercise regiment, Ly regained use of his right hand
and leg. He described himself 95 percent recovered, and said that
he is taking medicine provided by the prison doctors to maintain
his blood pressure, as well as supplemental medicine provided by
his family.

4. (SBU) Father Ly said that his spirits remain high, quipping
that he has come to consider prison as his "official office." He
wakes up every morning at 3:00 am and prays, reads the Bible, and
recites mass three times before the prison's morning wakeup bell
sounds; he recites his prayers and reads the scriptures eight times
a day. He reads daily from the bilingual New Testament that the
USCIRF delegation presented him in May, but asked the Ambassador to
bring him a bilingual English Bible with the Old Testament the next
time he visits. The prison has provided him with additional
Catholic prayer books, bilingual dictionaries, and the Communist
Party newspapers, The People (Nhan Dan) and The Law (Phap Luat),
which he said he reads daily. Ly also watches several hours of
television in the evening and on Sunday. He enjoys gardening in

HANOI 00001098 002.2 OF 003

his 15-square-meter courtyard and exercises twice daily. While Ly
is entitled, consistent with Vietnamese law, to a one-hour visit
every month by family, the distance and expense of a monthly trip
is too much for his relatives in Ho Chi Minh City. As a result,
his nieces and nephews rotate, each visiting him every other month.
He joked that although he is kept in isolation, he is not alone.
"God, wild birds, rats and his garden help keep me company."

Human Rights in Vietnam


5. (SBU) Turning to the issue of human rights in Vietnam, Father
Ly said that this was a "complicated" issue. Unlike previous
meetings with the Ambassador and USCIRF, Ly sounded almost
conciliatory, stating that both sides (the GVN and dissidents)
needed to consider human rights from the perspective of the other.
He said, for example, that he had tried to understand restrictions
on free speech. He thanked the Ambassador, the USG, and Congress
for repeatedly raising his case and said that the Ministry of
Public Security had told his family that he would be released early
if he "reformed" his thinking. Father Ly acknowledged that he had
violated GVN law, but insisted that such laws were not just, noting
(with a bit of his customary flair) that Karl Marx and Ho Chi Minh
had been arrested for their radical ideas and released. Warming to
the theme, Ly emphasized that the Communist Party controlled the
media and suppressed contradictory voices. Returning to a more
conciliatory tone, Ly added that the Party took these actions to
maintain stability so that it could "continue working for the

6. (SBU) Commenting on Vietnam's Universal Periodic Review before
the UN Human Rights Council, Father Ly noted that countries in the
third world that view Vietnam as a role model had supported
Vietnam's position. Western nations, on the other hand, disagreed
with Vietnam's catch-all national security provisions, and argued
that Vietnam's practices violated fundamental individual rights, in
particular rights guaranteed by the International Convention on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Human Rights
Declaration, which he said prevail over domestic law. Ly
maintained that he was a prisoner of conscience and said that he
knew he would not be released early unless he confessed and asked
for forgiveness from the GVN. Father Ly asked the Ambassador what
he should do. The Ambassador responded that Ly should do what he
believed to be right. Father Ly agreed, adding that this would
result in his remaining in prison for the five years he has left to

Three Request of the Ambassador


7. (SBU) At the end of the meeting, Father Ly made three requests:
1) assist victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam; 2) pass on Ly's
congratulations to President Obama for winning the Nobel Peace
Prize and encourage him to use his standing to obtain peace in the
Middle East; and 3) push for reform of the United Nations to assure
world peace, a project that he estimated would take 300 years. Ly
called on all world religions -- Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and
Jews -- to work together to obtain peace. He said that the UN
should establish an interdenominational peace organization based in
either Brazil, Australia, or India and headed by either a Buddhist
or Muslim to push for an end to religious conflict and world peace.

Press Interview Following Meeting


8. (SBU) Following his meeting with Father Ly, the Ambassador was
questioned by a VTV television reporter and a print journalist.
Asked about Father Ly's health condition, the Ambassador responded
that he trusted Ly's self-diagnosis that his arm and leg were
almost completely back to normal following his stroke. In response

HANOI 00001098 003.2 OF 003

to a question about the prison's medical treatment for Father Ly,
the Ambassador noted that Ly had expressed satisfaction with the
treatment, and added that he was pleased Father Ly's family was
allowed to visit. The reporter then stated that Father Ly violated
the law, and asked whether the Ambassador felt Ly would "reform his
actions so that he could be given early release." The Ambassador
noted that Ly's beliefs had not changed, but called for Ly to be
released on humanitarian grounds, emphasizing that Ly was not a
threat to Vietnam. In response to a question posed by the print
journalist regarding the Ambassador's views on Father Ly's idea for
UN reform, the Ambassador said that reform of the United Nations
was necessary, but hoped it would not take 300 years.

© Scoop Media

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